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Volunteer, educational opportunities plentiful for seniors

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

Life after a career in the corporate world is as busy as ever for John Wolfenden. The retiree turned full-time volunteer now recruits others like him for the Retired Seniors and Volunteers Program.

“I think I contribute a lot to the program,” he said. “It’s different. I don’t find myself under deadline pressure.”

RSVP is among the many programs for seniors who seek opportunities to remain active after retirement. RSVP and Senior Corps will host a volunteer fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 20 at the Sycamore Senior Center, 4455 Carver Woods Dr., in Blue Ash.

Catholic Charities of SouthWestern Ohio hosts the national programs sponsored by Senior Corps including RSVP, Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions.

RSVP matches volunteers, 55 and older, with organizations seeking program assistance at organizations such as Bethesda North and Good Samaritan Hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

“RSVP is a clearing house for all kinds of services,” said David Mikkelsen, director of Senior Corps programs. “They do everything from stuffing envelopes to running an information desk — whatever the need is.”

The program currently has 480 volunteers and was implemented locally last year, Mikkelsen said.

Foster Grandparents enables seniors to tutor and mentor children at schools and in after-school programs. To become a foster grandparent, individuals must be 60 years of age or older and meet certain income eligibility guidelines. Volunteers can work up to 40 hours per week and receive a monthly stipend.

Although the program has about 100 volunteers, Mikkelsen said legislation is in the works to raise the income and lower the age requirements in an effort to increase participation.

Senior Companions is another way for individuals age 60 and over to share their compassion and experience. Volunteers receive orientation and training and are paired with an individual whose home they visit. They may perform light housecleaning duties, such as doing the laundry and preparing lunch, or simply spend time with the person. Income guidelines apply, and a monthly stipend may be included.

“A senior companion goes to the house or apartment to help the person stay at home. These people really develop a close relationship,” Mikkelsen said. Both Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions have been in place for the past three years.

When it comes to retirement, both Mikkelsen and Wolfenden encourage people to get involved.

“You can’t take an entire lifetime of having something to do and then take off. It doesn’t work that way,” Mikkelsen said.

Wolfenden said Catholic Charities and area parishes have been fantastic with their support to help develop programs.

“Our programs have a steady stream of volunteers,” Wolfenden said.

For more information about Senior Corps and its programs, call 513-241-7745.

The Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) also offers a multitude of opportunities for persons over 50 to minister to those in need — from tutoring children to working with refugees and immigrants. Volunteers commit to working two days a week in service to the poor, from September to June, for one year. In addition to reaching out to others, the volunteers also have the chance to reflect on their experiences, gathering monthly for group reflection and meeting individually with a spiritual director. To learn more about the IVC, contact Sam Schloemer, regional director, at 513-608-5551

Universities throughout the archdiocese offer classes and programs for seniors as well. Xavier University, for example, offers a discounted rate for seniors enrolled in the Center for Adult and Part Time Students to earn a degree. For more information, call 513-745-3355.

The College of Mount St. Joseph features the LifeLearn Program that offers enrichment experiences and development opportunities. Classes vary on subject such as art, computer science, history, language, religion and spirituality. Classes begin March 16. For more information, call 513- 244-4525.

The University of Dayton has the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute that offers seminars for people who are 50 years old and older. The institute has locations at universities throughout the country. UD will celebrate the institute’s 15th anniversary on campus in September.

The institute is geared for those who have a “pure love of learning,” said Julie Mitchell, assistant dean of special programs and continuing education for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Dayton.

Instead of classes, the institute offers seminars from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Officials are in the midst of expanding the program to weeknights and Saturdays to accommodate varying schedules. Unlike a traditional classroom and course work, there is no college credit, homework or exams.

“For some, it’s the first opportunity to be part of a college atmosphere or first opportunity to do something that interests them,” Mitchell said. “This is not for credit and there are no tests or grades given. No college degree or high school diploma is needed to enroll.”

For more information, call 937-229-2347.

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